Snecma (Safran group) and French national scientific research agency CNRS have successfully carried out a series of tests on the prototype of a 20 kilowatt Hall effect thruster for spacecraft (also called a stationary plasma thruster, or SPT), designed by Snecma.
Its performance during testing is world-class. In particular, this new electric thruster has demonstrated its ability to generate variable thrust, at 30 to 100% of maximum thrust of 1050 mN, with excellent efficiency.
These results pave the way for new space applications of this electric propulsion technology, for both space exploration and orbital injection methods for satellites. Furthermore, Hall effect propulsion is very environmentally friendly, offering much lower fuel consumption than conventional chemical propulsion systems.
The tests were carried out on the Pivoine test rig at the CNRS Icare laboratory in Orléans, central France. Built in 1997, the test rig was co-funded by French space agency CNES, the local region and Snecma. It was initially designed to test 1.5 kW thrusters, but was modified in 2011 to enable testing thrusters in the 20 kW class, and measure their corresponding thrust levels.
Both the thruster construction and the tests were carried out within the scope of the HiPER (High Power Electric Propulsion) project, supported by the European Union through the 7th R&D Framework Program.
Snecma has developed, integrated, produced and tested propulsion systems for satellites for nearly 40 years at its Space Engines division in Vernon, west of Paris, with the support of CNES and the European Space Agency (ESA). A pioneer in electric propulsion in Europe, Snecma is now the European leader in this field.
Snecma’s PPS® 1350 plasma thruster propelled ESA’s Smart-1 probe from Earth orbit to lunar orbit from 2005 to 2007. Rated at 1.5 kW and developing thrust of 90 mN, this thruster is particularly well suited to orbital control on geostationary satellites. In particular, it equips the Alphasat satellite developed by Thales Alenia Space, ready for launch in 2012.